You Can Shoot Yourself. But You Can’t Stop Communicating

Article in the Life Coach Section of the August 2014 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

A lot of conventional literature on communication would talk about how human communication starts from the moment the child is born and goes on till a person’s last breath. In fact the actual process of communication starts well before the child is born, almost from the moment of conception. The embryo communicates its presence to the mother through chemical changes in the body with related mood and emotional implications. The growing mass of cells communicates the need for a particular kind of care for the mother. The unborn baby on the verge of entering the big wide world communicates through the mother, the need to be rushed to the hospital at the end of the gestation period and so on.

Communication being such a fundamental element of human existence, it continues to play a crucial role throughout a person’s life. While the difference between verbal and non verbal communication has been common knowledge from the past several decades, it is still quite common for people who want to stop communicating with someone else to merely stop talking to them. Unfortunately, silence is one of the most powerful modes of communication. A few seconds of silence in a conversation or a dramatic pause can sometimes convey far more than several minutes of dialogue. Not only can silence convey a person’s unwillingness to communicate but it can also convey a person’s real emotions. Feelings of anger, shame, guilt, bliss, comfort and discomfort can be conveyed through silence. Another close cousin of silence in the arena of communication is Absence.

  • The idea of the teacher marking students absent after a long explanation of student carelessness and the need for them to be more regular to class.
  • Party hosts in social situations remembering the guests who didn’t show up for the party, long after the occasion is over.
  • Friends, colleagues and family members spending hours discussing others who aren’t even there to share the moment.

Many a times, your absence speaks much louder than your presence.

There are also the quiet ones who think their communication is best demonstrated through their actions. What they do, the way they care for others, the commitments they live up to and the overall behaviour they demonstrate. While there is no debate on the fact that your actions are a powerful mode of communication, the point that is often missed out is the communicating power of Inaction.

  • Restaurants that are given poor feedback by their customers and don’t do anything about it communicate their “We Don’t Care” attitude.
  • People who get blamed for no fault of theirs but don’t speak up or clarify their point, communicate their low level of self respect.
  • And people who have dreams and aspirations but don’t take any action towards realizing them communicate their laziness or poor appetite for life.

Finally, another factoid that the traditional books on communication missed out is that the process of communication does not in fact stop with your last breath. Dead people communicate the need to be put to rest by others. Their absence in turn communicates the need for their loved ones to make adjustments and move on. Obituary messages and posthumous awards and recognitions are other classic examples of how your communication could outlive you.

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Reproducing Excellence

Article in the Life Coach Section of the July 2014 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was asked in an interview about how he went on to become a successful Hollywood star, his answer was remarkably simple. He said something that really highlighted the essence of NLP.

NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming and it has been a bit of a buzzword for the past couple of decades. Essentially, NLP is a way of achieving the outcomes you want by using thought, language and behaviour appropriately. In other words, it is a way to create and reproduce excellence by coding some of the elements and principles of excellence. One such principle is that if someone can do something well, you can reproduce that. More importantly, if you can do something well, then you can reproduce that in other areas of your life too. This means that excellence has a structure and pattern linked to it. Once you understand this structure, what you’re actually doing is capturing the source code of excellence.

There is a 45 year old banker, Tanya (name changed) whom I coached a few months ago to improve her interpersonal skills, both at work and otherwise. In our very first conversation it became apparent that while it was extremely difficult for her to get along well with people, she was exceptional when it came to cooking. In fact, she was known among her extended family and her husband’s circle of friends as the grumpy woman who is an amazing cook. On closer examination and questioning, it turned out that what actually made her a good cook were the following:

  1. She read a lot of books and articles on cooking.
  2. She cooked whenever she got a chance to.
  3. She kept cooking a dish time and again till she got it absolutely right and people acknowledged that.
  4. When a dish she cooked didn’t come out right, she looked at it as feedback and learned lessons from it so that she could get it right the next time around.
  5. She was always smiling while she cooked, because she loved doing it.

The turnaround in Tanya’s interpersonal skills happened within a month from our first conversation. All she had to do was apply her code for cooking, when she interacted with people.

  1. So Tanya began to read books and articles about interpersonal skills.
  2. She began to interact with people whenever she got an opportunity to.
  3. If one style of communication or interaction with a person did not work, she tried another and then another, till she got the outcome she wanted.
  4. When an interaction or conversation with someone didn’t go well, she looked for feedback from that situation so that she could correct and improve herself.
  5. Most importantly, she smiled a lot more when she interacted with people.

A combination of all these new patterns really changed the entire game for Tanya who is now beginning to be seen as more of a people person. Therefore, the secrets to excellence lie with you; it’s just a matter of understanding and reproducing them in other areas of your life.

And that was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s response in the interview. He said that to become a successful actor, one of the major things he did was to look at his body building career. He spent time understanding what exactly he did to become Mr. Universe thrice and the I.F.B.B. Mr. Olympia seven times. He then applied the same principles to his acting career and that greatly contributed to making him the Hollywood star that he is today.

The Multidimensional Nature Of Health and Wellbeing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the March 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page - March 2015

All too often, people tend to anchor their good health and well being to a specific set of causes or parameters. Many health and wellbeing enthusiasts are convinced about ideas like:

  • “Work out for an hour everyday and you will be fit and fine”
  • “Drink two litres of water a day and you will be in good health”
  • “If you don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes you will live long”
  • “Practice yoga for an hour every morning and you will not have any health problems”
  • “Shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet and you will have more energy”

This is what I call the “Apple A Day” mindset. It is the mindset that causes people to believe that their health and wellbeing can be reduced to one specific magical variable. In reality, being healthy is the result of a combination of factors; some well within our control and some completely out of our control. The converse of the “Apple A Day” mindset and the more useful one is what I call the “Way Of Life” mindset. The mere phrase “Way Of Life” suggests consistency and it refers to the multidimensional nature of health and wellbeing. A state of good health is the outcome of a number of factors like the right eating and drinking habits, the right amount of exercise, a blessed genetic inheritance and several others, many of which might not even be in our popular consciousness. If you drank two litres of water a day and sat on your couch all day long watching television, you would be as unhealthy as if you practiced an hour of yoga in the morning and spent the rest of the day drinking large amounts of alcohol and smoking 60 cigarettes. The “Way Of Life” mindset also applies to ill health and disease as much as it does to good health and wellbeing. I have often heard people say things like:

“God! She ate so healthy and never missed her morning walk and exercise and she still had a heart attack at 40”

OR

“I can’t believe that after a lifetime of smoking and eating fatty food, this man is still hale and hearty at the ripe old age of 85.”

Statements like these just go on to show that there isn’t just one dimension to your health and wellbeing. The 40 year old might have exercised regularly but could have been stuck in a job that she hated and faced extreme levels of stress day in and day out. On the contrary, the 85 year old smoker might have been from a family where his parents and even grandparents went on to celebrate their 100th birthdays.

In a day and age of quick fixes and one stop solutions, the real perks go to those who realize that merely eating an apple a day might not keep the doctor away, if everything else that you do is counterproductive to your health and wellbeing. When it comes to good health, it is not one factor overriding the others, it is each factor working in tandem with all the others, many of which are yet to be uncovered by our scientists and researchers. The future might well shock us by revealing some of the most unexpected factors and their correlation with human wellbeing. While it is impossible to spot every single dimension of your health and wellbeing, a wise approach is to identify the ideal combination of factors and work on keeping them under check.